Feb 20, 2009 - islam op-eds    10 Comments

Are you religious?

Recently I’ve heard some younger sisters say they don’t want to marry someone “too religious”. I thought that was unusual in that I figure someone who is religious would make a good husband.

(But I think they mean someone who believes in certain things and would “force” their wife to also do those things, like for example Niqab, or not watching movies/music, or something along those lines.)

So I was thinking… what makes someone religious? How do you know someone is religious? Am *I* religious?

Growing up my Dad would unfailingly take us to the Mosque every Friday and Sunday for classes. He came from a typically religious Indian Muslim family back home and his older brother was a “Maulvi”. (I think they actually tried to send my Dad to the Muslim seminary to become one too, but he has this hilarious story of how he ran away the first day cause he hated it!) My father I’m sure wanted to be certain that we got the Islamic education we were supposed to. We were never allowed to “skip” these Friday/Sundays even if we were a little sick or someone in our regular school class had a birthday party or something. Looking back I’m probably thankful. I grew up knowing I’d always be at the mosque on Fridays and Sundays and my personal friends/personal life pretty much revolved around that.

Anyway, so starting college was quite an interesting experience in that no more Mosque! Well I was graduated now and didn’t have to go! Not only that I met tons of “Muslims” on campus but they were so weird. Some had girlfriends/boyfriends, some drank, some knew absolutely nothing and I mean nothing about Islam. It was a very strange experience. That’s when we re-started up the MSA at Su…err i mean K.U.K.Y and one summer after interning at a Muslim organization let’s call it N.A.S.A. I decided to start wearing the Hijab. (oooo I bet you guys thought I’ve been wearing the Hijab since i was 12 1/2 sooo bustedd blog that’s what you get for assuming things!)

So when we had Muslim events at K.U.K.Y or around I’d wear Jilbab. Just as a …you know this is a religious event let me try to wear something that goes with the theme. For real, Jilbabs are really nice and they cover pretty well, you wear whatever you want underneath and you just color-co-ordinate your scarf with it. But over the years now somehow I’ve gotten this reputation of being…what? Ultra- religious-conservative? I don’t know.

I don’t consider Jilbab the only Islamic dress out there, there are surely lots of kinds of dress which cover just as well, such as the Malaysian tunic and skirt… the Desi shalwar kameez, the American long top and loose pants. But you know there’s just something about Jilbab that changes people’s opinions about you. Suddenly you’re “religious” and “respected”, brothers stand 5 feet away from you and look at the floor. Certain aunties approve of you and certain girls make sure not to be your friends.

It’s so inculcated among Muslims to make judgments about a girl based upon her dress. Aside: This goes back to a larger problem we have in our Ummah in my opinion, which is the emphasis on the outer – the formal and ignoring the inner – spirituality, character, values, etc. Why are there Muslims that lie and cheat others and yet fast in Ramadan. Why are there Muslims that never miss Isha in the Masjid but they are selling liquor and porn at their corner stores. Why are there Muslim kids that know how to pray by heart but have absolutely no idea what they’re saying or why. We have become this Ummah that emphasizes ritual and have lost our essence.

This also happens especially to sisters who don’t wear the Hijab. Why assume that she’s not a good Muslim? She probably prays and wears modest things and has values just like any other Muslim does. She may not wear the Hijab (something required) but we all know someone wearing the Hijab might not be doing something they are supposed to either.

I realized all this a few years ago and stopped wearing the Jilbab regularly for this reason. I have problems, deficiencies, and sins as much as the next person, if not i believe more, and it just bothered me that others would assume things about me based upon that.

Someone might say here: Who cares what other people think, you’re doing something good so you should do it. But in this case I don’t consider Jilbab better than the other forms of dress I mentioned, it is only in other peoples minds where the “assumation” is.

I found it really interesting this year when some new people moved to this area and when they first met me they didn’t assume anything. They had no idea how religious I was or anything about me. It was very refreshing and somewhat amusing, but definitely a learning experience.

Anyway so back to religiousness… I would like to define “religious” as someone who practices Islam at their level, strives to improve themselves in it, and strives to improve those around them with it.

So this is not a perfect person, but a person that puts some priority on their Islam and wanting to improve and they also go one level further and are trying to change the world around them by either activism, following Islamic principles, teaching others or whatever.

This is a much broader and open-minded definition that includes more people and excludes a few others. Using this definition, I’ve known some non-Hijabi girls that I think are religious. Some are very active in doing many things to improve the lot of humanity and I find it a shame that our Muslim organizations exclude them when they are such an asset. Aside: Even some “bad Muslims” perhaps do better Dawah than our “good ones”. I am sooo serious. Like all those famous ‘Muslim’ Bollywood stars that drink or whatever, yet all they have to say is that Islam is a religion of peace after some terrorism act hits their country and a billion Bollywood fans have been given real Dawah.

And using my definition I’m going to say some people who others think are “religious” I would say are not. I really wish everyone could think of religious in this way instead of believing a religious person is just one who prays and fasts and does everything perfectly. I mean even Allah says it’s not the meat or blood of the sacrifice that reaches Him but our piety. (Reference: Quran 22: 37) Allah does not need our worship, our praying, fasting or our Hijab. It is for our own benefit only.Yes we have to do it, yes we should strive for it, and yes we should encourage others for it. But, form without soul has no benefit and a soul without form is Baatil (empty of worth). That is the real point.

So am I religious…heck ya.

…and I hope you are too! :D

P.S. Post-blog thinking quiz:


Who is religious here?


  • I like your definiton of religon…and i agree with you people focus on the outward wayyy to much its really disturbing.

    ps: what does the cartoon girl say?

  • I love this picture!!!
    It is definitely Egypt

  • “whats said in razia’s basement stays in razia’s basement”
    - unknown person at party LOL

    but in reality, this was a very good piece, nice read.

    the cartoon reads: “shes not ashamed to go out with no hijab, how improper!!”

  • Hahah the cartoon is so funny. And there’s a zipper going across the one on the rights shirt! What a winner! :-D

    You know I’ve heard that “too religious” phrase too ;) but when hearing the reasons I think.. by it, they usually mean someone who is on a level that *they feel* is way beyond theirs (doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing at all).

    For instance, in my case, I want someone I can work with rather than having that pressure to work up to. I don’t like too many expectations, stresses me out, and when I get stressed out I get really itchy haha.

  • adi i’m sure u’ve seen tons of this stuff happening on LI too. cartoon haha definitely reminds me of egypt… and the two girls exact words are like “…she has no adab!” interesting eh..

    anam i know u want that shirt for our next xchange party ;P

    with someone way above u as long as they didn’t ‘force’ u to be a certain way i think it could be good for u..guess they’re going to have to watch out for ur itch tho lol ;)

    ps oh and nouha and others who were at razelle’s party i’m posting ‘what girls found attractive’ next fri… i hope no one kills me.. but don’t worry i won’t put any names!!

  • I really liked this blog and esp the cartoon. I’m stealing it and putting it on my facebook!

  • Salaam, nice topic…i only have one thing to say, about one of my inspirations. She taught me what it meant to pray, to really pray. She taught me what modesty really was, esp. in manners.
    And she doesn’t look identifiably “Muslim” by some standards (hijaab/jilbaab). Had I not gotten to know her, I would have never benefitted from her. Had I met someone else, with less sincerity or knowledge of inner faith, I would have probably been disillusioned. It was a fragile age, let’s just say (teen years), and I needed someone like her at that particular time in my life, walhamdulillah.
    Anyhow, while some of us do wear hijaab and modest clothing, if that’s how we define ourselves, alone, we aren’t doing ourselves any favors.
    Nice topic for thought, jazaaki Allahu khayran. :)

  • I hate the term “religious”. Great post!

    I usually define a person as “practicing Muslim” or not by the way they interact with other people. Perhaps those people that moved to Albany this year didn’t assume you were “religious” based on your interactions with them.

  • ws,

    sofia that’s really amazing ma’shallah may Allah bless her for helping you. I wish i could be a role model for the kids but it’s so hard to even be a good person for urself nowadays! but the being true to yourself, i think i’ll try to talk about that topic in next week’s blog inshaAllah!

    nur yes “practicing muslim” is a little less ambiguous than “religious muslim” but still not defined clearly. that guy who killed his wife in buffalo could be called a “practicing muslim” in that he prayed and fasted and went to the mosque, but turns out he was an awful person with a horrible home life. and lol i wasn’t talking about you when i said new people! there are other ppl who moved here recently :) and it doesn’t matter what they ‘assumed it’ based on, it was just interesting in that it was different from what others assume.

  • The thing is… yes there are unreligious women who wear a hijab but do other big haraam things.

    Advice: Don’t look at the fact that they they have a hijab and they’re still doing bad things. Hijab is one of the required good things they’re doing. So if you have to criticize them, then just criticize the bad thing. Never say “why are you wearing a hijab if you do this too. Because then you will eventually make them stop wearing the hijab because they feel stupid. If you have to say something then only concentrate on the haraam stuff they’re doing, let them keep doing the good things they’re doing.

    It’s like when someone says “Hey you have a fist-length beard, but you don’t pray? Then you should shave your beard” Then the poor guy shaves his beard off. The way that is to be dealt with is to not comment on his beard and rather encourage him to pray salaah. That way in the end he will have done two good things rather than two bad things.

    Basically never tell someone they shouldn’t be doing one good thing because they’re also doing a bad thing.

    I hope you understand what I am saying, because it’s hard for me to explain and even I’m confusing myself now. But sorry, don’t feel offended. It’s only advice from a stranger.